What is it about iconic British characters that allows us to suspend our disbelief so that they can undergo endless regenerations, as different actors take over the role? Does it hark back to the British nobility, where a succession of people bear the title of, say, the Duke of Cumberland? His name might be John, or William, or Fred, or Toby, but he's known to the world as the Duke of Cumberland. The actors change, but the title of the role remains the same.
So, too, we have The Doctor, and 007:James Bond. Coincidentally, they've both been around for about the same length of time, with the Bond series of films starting production in 1962, and Doctor Who hitting the airwaves the following year. And we need to wish the literary Mr. Bond a happy birthday, as he was "born" on November 11, in either 1920 or '21.
The guys at BBC's Top Gear decided to celebrate fifty years of Bond Cars with a ninety-minute special, hosted by persistently chirpy Richard Hammond.
Now, the Top Gear guys have been featuring bits of Bond-age all season--the boys attempted to build their own spy cars, complete with oil squirting jets (installed on purpose, not just due to shoddy repair work, like on my car) and a rudimentary cloaking device cobbled together by James May, which made a much more refined appearance in the special as a number of plasma-screen TV's bolted to a delivery van, with cameras projecting the scenery on the opposite side of the vehicle. It...sorta worked.
But in this special, Hammond gets the inside scoop from the directors, actors, and stunt-men who put the Bond films together (including ex-Stig Ben Collins), and profiles every Bond vehicle ever used on screen, from the iconic Aston Martin DB5 to a flying car that didn't. And in the end, the Top Gear crew builds a real-life working version of the submarine Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me (using the less-expensive Excel version) that Hammond bravely drives right into--and under--a reservoir. It only leaks a little bit. Must've really freaked out those two hikers on the bluff, though.
The special shows behind-the-scenes glimpses of how some of the more memorable car chases and stunts were put together, and dishes on the inside information about how and why certain makes of cars got to be associated with the Bond franchise. Richard Hammond is like a kid in a candy store, and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious--I was really glad that neither James May nor Jeremy Clarkson, his co-presenters, were part of this show. James could have done all right, but Clarkson would have been like a wet cement blanket.
This special is about cars, cars, and more cars--cars that go very fast, cars that pop wheelies, cars that spin and dance and shoot missiles, cars that defy gravity, physics, and belief--and yet almost every stunt ever done in the Bond series, was done with an actual car being driven by a live person. Even in the latest installment, Skyfall, they use real vehicles and stunt drivers. In this day and age of CGI magic, the idea that they do it all the old school way is impressive and refreshing. Only a few stunts had to be done with models, mainly because the real vehicles didn't work as needed. The flying plane broke apart during a test flight, killing its pilot-creators, and the submarine Lotus just didn't work properly underwater, so both of these used intricate scale models.
Richard's submarine Lotus, however, worked astonishingly well. The show's worth watching just to see him driving along about eight feet underwater in a car. He can barely contain his glee.
If you're a fan of James Bond, or if you just like cars, or if you're a film-making special effects junkie--or if, like my wife, you think Hammond's adorable--then this is a terrific program to watch. Or...was. I'm not sure when it'll be on again, but Netflix has it.
The clip of the submersible Lotus is here on YouTube:
(I tried to find the whole show, but the only thing I came up with was a low-dpi vset of videos on YouTube. Even the official Top Gear page came up blank, so you might be able to still find this repeated on your network carrier.)