Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the “Dr. No” premiere and as preface to the release of “Skyfall” on Nov. 9, A&E Entertainment has cobbled together three short cable TV documentaries under the title “James Bond Gadgets” that offers spotty behind-the-scenes insights into the diabolically clever gizmos and spy toys that British Secret Agent 007 employed in his numerous clandestine cinematic missions to save the world from evil.
Two of the documentaries on the DVD aired on the History Channel's “Modern Marvels” series in 2002 as “The Gadgets of James Bond.” The third, “Ian Fleming,” aired in 2004 on A&E's fine “Biography” series and offers a brief but pithy look at the life and adventures of the author/raconteur who dreamed up James Bond and in 14 novels turned him into literature's most enduring super spy.
Armed with an international playboy's charm (no matter what actor portrayed him), Agent 007 always carried along the most advanced, high-tech spy tools known to man. A long-standing feature of each Bond movie involves 007's visit to the top-secret tech labs where he's briefed on the particular arsenal of deadly gadgets the he'll be equipped with for his assignment.
Given the patchwork nature of this DVD, the information contained here is scattershot and incomplete. Hardcore Bond fans will find no new revelations; casual fans might find it an entertaining primer.
Classic gadgets spotlighted include the Auto Gyro from “You Only Live Twice” (1967); a brief once-over of Bond's classic Astin Martin (which dates back to 1964's “Goldfinger”); the Q-Boat from “The World Is Not Enough” (1999); the Acrostar Jet from “Octopussy” (1983); the Rocket Belt and the Underwater Scooter from “Thunderball” (1965) and more.
Interviews with some of the gadget creators are interspersed here and there, but most are surprisingly mundane and burdened with techno-speak. In what feels like diverting but engaging filler, there are sideline visits to The Counter Spy Shop in New York City, the Special Tactical Services Center in Virginia (where potential spies are trained) and the entertaining Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
While the gadget docs merely skim the surface, the “Biography” episode profiling Fleming is the disc's best feature. At just over 40 minutes, it's far from comprehensive (especially for a man who lived such a globe-trotting life of international intrigue and roguish derring-do). But it does give a most concise and colorful look at the man whose fertile imagination gave birth to Bond and all of those crazy, enchanting, clever and deadly tools of the spy trade that he employed.
Dennis King blogs about movies at blog.newsok.com/projections.