While the latest James Bond adventure Skyfall (Director: Sam Mendes) does use a lot of ‘Big Brother’ surveillance technology to make us fret about the future (GPS tracking, Automatic Number Plate Recognition ANPR cameras, networked CCTV cameras with facial recognition software etc) it does not make special use of space technology in its plot.  We can be grateful for that.  At least it will avoid “errors” that past Bond films have made with respect to space technology. 

One of these was apparent in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) starring Pierce Brosnan, which had a scene involving “live” continuous hi-resolution televised satellite imagery monitoring a terrorist arms bazaar …a space technology that did not (and still does not) actually exist. Most spy satellites are in low Earth orbits – usually Sun-synchronous or near polar – and pass over a location briefly only twice a day.  As such, they would have been better to say a communications satellite was relaying pictures from a drone.

Having said all that, this satellite monitoring “error” just might be about to be corrected. At the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) held in Naples in early October, Astrium Satellites announced a plan to launch 8,8 tonne satellite to Geostationary Earth Orbit called HRGeo.  This satellite should be able to continuously monitor parts of the Earth at a resolution of 3m using a camera based on large mirror telescope optics.  While 3m imagery is really too low to be described as “high resolution”, apparently the military remains unconcerned.  To them moving images are of more value than very high definition snap shots.

This is just one example where apparently erroneous James Bond films have often foreseen an aerospace technology before it has actually come true in reality. 

Other examples include:

You Only Live Twice (1967) depicted vertically-landing reusable rocket stages nearly five decades before SpaceX and Blue Origin started working on them (though you can take it as read that they will not be using a hollowed out volcano as their launch site even if the volcanic Ascension Island remains attractive in being so close to the “best spin boost” of the equator).  

Meanwhile, the high-power lasers and solar beams depicted in the mainly space-tosh plots of Diamonds are Forever (1971), Die Another Day (2002) and in the fun but most space-ridiculous of all, Moonraker (1979), may not be on spacecraft yet, but such laser beam weapons are being deployed in aircraft and on ships. 

Blofeld's spacecraft.JPGThe prediction is about to become reality: Satellite laser beam in Diamonds Are Forever. Courtesy: Eon Productions

Having mentioned Die Another Day (2002), the adaptive-camoflage “cloak of invisibility” technique that, to much critical derision, allowed Bond’s Aston Martin car to disappear in that film, has now been attempted in real life by Mercedes Benz, although their LED-based technology is not perfected yet.  Meanwhile, Japanese researchers are working on projection technlogies that allow car structures to become invisible from the inside allowing a clearer view for parking/reversing etc.  

Finally, the unbelievable-looking over-the-shoulder fire forward/hit backwards anti-aircraft missile shots fired from Bond’s autogyro “Little Nellie” in You Only Live Twice (1967) effectively became a possible reality in the mid-1980s after the Soviet Union developed the highly agile and helmet targeted Vympel R-73 “Archer” missile; and put NATO air forces in a fretful tiz as a result.

Back to the current film:Skyfall (2012) is a very good entry in the series, with a mournful theme sung by Adele setting the tone for the film’s feel and plot as it depicts the blowback from past ruthless and callous decisions.  

Set mostly under the grey skies of London and Scotland, the film is, in fact, more reminscent of the cold-war-era Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than a James Bond extravaganza.  Nevertheless, there are enough exciting stunts in glamorous foreign locations (Istanbul, Shanghai, Macau etc) to please the kids, although some of their surprise has been lost by these stunts’ overexposure in movie trailers. 

The acting and the script remain excellent however, with Daniel Craig in the lead 007 role and Dame Judi Dench as his hard-hearted but also vulnerable boss M who has a sort of mother-son relationship with her favourite agent.  There is also serious work done by Ralph Fiennes, and by Javier Bardem as a bi-oriented renegade agent and I.T. expert of a villain (possibly some sort of social commentary here J). 

It is not only in over-the-top space technology that Skyfall misses out on.  Apart from some advanced tracking and computer hacking applications it remains nearly devoid of advanced technological items, to the point that, as he is handed his somewhat underpowered in this body-armour-era 9mm-short calibre Walther PPK/S (albeit with one hi-tech modification), along with a Goldfinger (1964)-style radio tracker, even our hero dejectedly moans to a young Quartermaster “Q”, excellently played by Ben Wishaw:

“A gun and a radio…It is not exactly Christmas is it?” 

Still, at least, Bond can console himself that his Aston Martin DB5 classic automobile is back, along with its amusing old-school gadgets including its infamous ejection seat. 

Daniel Craig is physically shorter and fairer than the James Bond hero of the books (note that unlike Casino Royale (2006), Skyfall is not actually derived from a novel), but of all the actors who have played the part, Craig’s interpretation of Bond’s character is probably the closest to Ian Fleming’s original idea: a man who is patriotic and dutiful, but one who is sometimes remorseful over his actions; a man who is brave and heroic, but one who also can be physically and emotionally hurt. 

While the poor treatment of some of the female characters in this film’s plot, ranging from demotion to death, has been criticised, it sadly reflects the world as it is for many women, and not as it should be. Similarly, while Daniel Craig’s interpretation of 007 does have a politically-incorrect lecherous side, his more-enlightened James Bond, again like the books, also finds that the women he most loves are those who are a match for him.

So as our (mainly) gadgetless and very-human hero 007 continues to serve Queen and country in his 50th year, effectively serving the real Secret Intelligence Service as MI6’s principal public relations officer and de facto calling card, we can, at least, thank him for doing so.   Foreign countries may have powerful armies, navies, air forces, and even spacecraft-isotope-wielding poisoners to do their bidding, but we, in this sceptred isle, will always have James Bond.  If only he was real.

Hyperbola Rating: 007 is actually 008/10.   Bond may have been disappointed by a lack of gadgets in Skyfall but the rest of us were not.  Entertaining and thought provoking. Recommended.