Gadgets and Technology: Post-modernism and the use of Props

While the Bond films in general appear to be rooted in the post-classical period of genre evolution, there is one aspect of the Bond formula that strikes as particularly post-modern—Bond’s use of gadgets and technology.  Bond is not a hero who survives solely on his skill and wit; he depends on props and items to save him from threatening situations and to defeat his foes.  The Bond films use to wow the audience with the spectacle of cutting edge technology.  In accordance with post-modernism, the props in the Bond franchise add empty entertainment to the films, helping the films seem more incredible and helping the revenues of the studio.

The Bond franchise did not initially feature gadgets and technology as a core component of its formula, but only started incorporating them over time.  Bond’s original props were simply the bare essentials of his trade—for instance, in Dr. No (1962), all Bond receives is his gun:

Bond is given an important prop, but it is the same prop that every spy, action hero, and cop possess.

Source: universalexports.net
Another example of an early Bond prop: An attaché case with a hidden knife from From Russia With Love (1963). It was only later that Bond came to be associated with cutting edge technology.
He does not receive any technology to help him on his mission, or really anything that will give him the edge over enemies (for presumably, they will all have guns). However, Bond’s receipt of this standard piece of gear as a prelude to his mission is highlighted, as are the weapons’ capabilities, providing the foundation for the later emphasis on far more unique and sophisticated items.

As the Bond films moved out of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the Bond films started to emphasize spectacle in increasing amounts and that was reflected in Bond’s use of props.  As audiences clamored for something new from the Bond films and producers looked to further distinguish Bond from other spy characters, “Eon Productions came to invest very heavily in other areas of the Bond ‘formula’ picture, notably in the use of gadgets and spectacular designs. 

Source: AllPosters.comSource: AllPosters.com
Source: AllPosters.comSource: AllPosters.com
The posters promoting the Bond films transition from Bond merely holding a gun for films like Dr. No (1962) and Goldfinger (1964) to Bond being completely surrounded by technology for films such as You Only Live Twice (1967) and Moonraker (1979).
Hence, Bond’s physical presence on screen has increasingly come to be located in his mastery and use of technology.  For example, posters of the early films tended to show simply Connery holding a gun, while later films boast posters in which the technological inventions of the Bondian world almost swamp Bond” (Bennett and Wollacott, 198-199).  Bond’s appeal shifts away from his cunning and physical power to his superior technological skills. Bond moves from simple and practical props to sophisticated gadgets because the methodology of the films and their portrayal of the Bond character changes—Bond’s advantage over his enemies becomes his superior technology. The Bond franchise needed to stand apart, so it turned to the spectacle and freshness that technology provides.

The Bond films of the late 1970’s truly mark the transition of Bond gadgets from being semi-practical tools of a spy hero to being unnecessarily fantastic and outlandish.  Perhaps the most famous example of this turning point is the car that turns into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977):

The manner in which Bond turns the car into a submarine and destroys the enemy helicopter is absolutely absurd, and is seemingly unnecessary (for instance, why turn the car into a submarine when he could have fired the missile to destroy the helicopter straight away?). However, the sequence accomplishes its aim spectacularly—it grabs the audience’s attention.  The sight of a car turning into a submarine is something that people have never seen before, and the thought that something so outlandish is somehow possible is exciting. The emphasis of the sequence shifts away from Bond—he is not the hero of the scene, the car is.

This change of emphasis allows for a major function and purpose of Bond’s gear to make itself known—it is used to sell things.  Source: universalexports.net No other movie franchise is known for product placement quite like the Bond franchise. The Bond films feature various commercial goods front and center, and show them being used in fantastic ways.  It is not just any laser-shooting watch that Bond wears, but an Omega, and it is not just any car that turns into a submarine, but a Lotus Espirit.  The product placement in Bond films has reached the point where the characters actually reference the names of the product they are using—this clip from Die Another Day (2002) illustrates the film highlighting both the actual product and its fantastic abilities in the film:

The scene literally revolves around the car—it is the one mise-en-scene element that seems to be primary to the actors themselves.  The obvious purpose behind this kind of blatant advertising is to sell cars and to make money for the studio.  Bond has always been a defender of Western capitalist culture, but with the items in Bond films taking on this additional purpose, Bond essentially becomes a purveyor of capitalism.    Source: cinedelica.comJames Bond could not be the hero he is without the gadgets he uses—he needs commercial products to do his job.  Without capital goods, Bond would not have the means to save the Western World. The Bond films originally started to focus on technology to emphasize the fantastic and create spectacle, but that was only the first stage.  The second stage was turning that technology into a commodity.

The props and items that Bond uses have essentially come to define his character.  Willis argues that with Pierce Brosnan becoming Bond in the mid-1990s, “Bond [becomes] technological rather than physical, an expert…” (Lindner, 151). It is not courage, strength, or covert skills that make Bond a hero, but his technical expertise—an expertise that has made Bond subservient to his props.

In each new Bond film, the character of Bond remains constant—it is the astounding items that Bond uses that change and generate interest and excitement from film to film.  In this way, the Bond films have become very post-modern.  Their draw is based on thrills and the foregrounding of technology.  They are seeking to make the most spectacular films possible, in order to make the films as marketable as they can.  In the Bond franchise, this strategy has succeeded to the extent that the films can themselves market other products, which carries the ideal of maximizing revenue to another level.  Schatz said that when it comes to genre, “stories are varied and repeated as long as they satisfy audience demand and return a profit for the studios” (Schatz, 16).  Through its use of gadgets and technology, the Bond films have created a formula that fulfills both of those objectives.  The Bond franchise has found a marketing hook that can be repeated indefinitely because it can be recombined any number of ways—as gadgets themselves evolve, Bond will always have new tools at his disposal.

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