The title and casting for the new James Bond film, Skyfall, has finally been announced. Enough time has passed so that everyone has forgotten the travesty that was Quantum of Solace, so we're now eagerly looking forward to seeing James Bond back on the big screen, encountering a new threat to world peace and giving it a swift kick to the goolies. One thing we're not excited about, however, are the gadgets.
Don't look so shocked. You know as well as we do that the wacky gadgets and gizmos have been sorely lacking from the James Bond universe since Die Another Day in 2002. With the casting of Daniel Craig and the reboot of the franchise, a creative decision was taken to ditch the character of Q and his laboratory of feverishly insane technology.
That meant no more invisible cars, or lasers concealed in watches, or even an exploding pen. The rationale was that it was too naff and too unrealistic for the lean, mean Bond they had in mind. Which is fair enough, but it's definitely a case of maximum sadface for the gadget junkie in all of us.
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The gaping hole left behind by the bleeding-edge technology has been replaced by something else. Something nefarious, and sinister, and soul-suckingly predictable. It's called product placement.
It's always been a feature of the Bond books and films, most outrageously when Pierce Brosnan drove a tank through a Perrier-branded lorry in Goldeneye. But over the years it has grown steadily more problematic, to the extent that entire scenes revolve around certain props.
In Casino Royale, James Bond takes a moment from bashing a terrorist's brains out to explain to Vesper Lynd about the finer qualities of his Omega watch. Well, not literally, but you get the idea. In the recent documentary about product placement in modern moviemaking, The Greatest Show Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock is scathing in his criticism; this scene deserves "a special place in hell". We can't help but agree.
Elsewhere, a report in The Australian claims that one third of the budget for Skyfall is to come from brands that will appear on screen: "Under a deal struck between the MGM studio and the film's distributor, Sony, $45 million will be raised from companies wanting their brands displayed on screen". That makes it the biggest product-placement windfall in the history of cinema, more than double the $20 million raised by Steven Spielberg's Minority Report to feature products by Lexus, Bulgari and American Express.
From the comfort of our armchairs, we can easily predict which brands and products will appear in the new Bond film. There will be an Aston Martin, in some form. There will be an Omega watch, again. The booze will be provided by Smirnoff and Heineken. The famous blue Speedos may also make another appearance, if the locations are warm and sunny enough -- though it'll have to be Turkey or China, because the other confirmed locations of London and Scotland would see Bond in a wetsuit instead.
But most worryingly, all of the consumer technology will be provided by Sony. As well as owning the studio that's making the film, they also have a pretty large electronics division of their own. This means Sony Ericsson mobile phones (or maybe Sony-branded phones?); Sony Vaio laptops; Sony Bravia TVs and maybe even a 007-branded Sony Reader. At which point, story credibility is strained to the point where it's going to snap.
If James Bond existed in the real world, and if money were no object (as it usually isn't for the international superspy), he'd be using an iPhone or a MacBook Air. He'd be rockin' a frickin' iPad, just like Craig does in real life. Nobody in their right mind aspires to own a Sony Ericsson phone. Just look at any movie or TV show now, and they're all using Apple products -- regardless of the fact Apple doesn't pay for product placement.
Here's How To Fix It
It's not too late, though. If the producers want to make people genuinely excited about the technology on display, they need to do one of three things:
1.) Scale back the product placement. Give the sponsors their money back and tell them to sling their gold-plated, diamond-encrusted hook. We're not blind to the realities of commerce, however, so the chances of this happening are even more remote than finding a solution to the Eurozone crisis.
2.) Feature technology because it's innovative, not because it's branded. A sequence featuring the Virgin Galactic spaceflights could potentially make a great opening for Skyfall. Or maybe those creepy humanoid robots by Boston Dynamics; they'd be eye-catching henchmen for the new film (whilst simultaneously setting back human-robot relations by a couple of decades).
3.) Bring back Q. There, we've said it. We're not trying to be knee-jerk reactionaries here, but Q is an integral part of Ian Fleming's Bond mythos, and HE MUST BE REINSTATED IMMEDIATELY! It's entirely possible to represent the character in a way that's credible and not cheesy; it just takes a bit of imagination on the part of director Sam Mendes and his crew.
A new Bond film is always a good thing, don't get us wrong. The public appetite for his adventures haven't waned in nearly fifty years. It also keeps a lot of talented British filmmakers and actors in regular work, while reminding the rest of the world of that exact talent. But there's a crucial component that's been missing from the recent films, and that's gadgets. It's time they addressed the problem, and stopped plastering over it with a giant corporate badge.