Sunday, 22 July 2012

Q in other films

In my last article, I discussed how the character of Q changed through the series of Bond films, and identified some of the essential aspects associated with the character. That Q became a recurrent character in the Bond films was evidence of the character's success. Another indicator is the fact that the character has been imitated in other films, although as we'll see, the imitation has been a little slower to emerge.

The success of the Bond films at the box office in the mid and late 1960s brought a rash of imitators. Most were low-budget and instantly forgettable, but others were successful enough to spawn sequels and their own imitators. Each film copied elements of the Bond films to lesser or greater extents. Gadgets made an important contribution to most of them, but what is perhaps surprising now is the near absence of a Q-like figure.

For example, in one of the earliest Bond parodies, Carry On Spying (1964), there is a reference to the trick attaché case of From Russia With Love (1963), but the film features no armourer or Q-like character. The case is referenced again in the first of the Derek Flint films, Our Man Flint (1966), but it is the M character, Cramden, who explains to Flint how the device works. Similarly, in one of the Matt Helm spy spoofs, The Wrecking Crew (1968), the M equivalent, 'Mac' MacDonald, has the additional role of equipping Helm with the gadgets.

The spy-film boom had ceased by the end of the 1960s, and a hiatus in spy films followed. One of the few Bondian films to be made in the 1970s was Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973). In that film, however, no gadgets are required, as Bruce Lee's hands and feet (and some nunchaku) are the only tools he needs.

The 1980s were also relatively lean, although there were a few films which borrowed from the Bond films. The Nude Bomb (1980) was a big-screen adaptation of the Get Smart television series of the 1960s. The film updated elements of that series, but also brought in a Q-like gadget master, named Carruthers. Eleven years later, Teen Agent (1991) – released in the US as If Looks Could Kill – featured a laboratory scene with Geraldine James in a Q-like role as a white-coated scientist or technician. She equips the protagonist, Michael Corbin (played by Richard Grieco), with a gadget-laden Lotus Espirit.

The 1990s saw renewed interest in the spy genre, and the gap between Licence to Kill (1989) and GoldenEye (1995) was filled with Bondian films, most notably True Lies (1994). Leslie Neilson's Bond and spy spoof, Spy Hard (1995) emerged during this time, and showed another gadget-testing laboratory scene.

Since then, spy films with Bondian elements have proliferated, and many of them have scenes featuring a Q-type character. Cody Banks, the teenage spy played by Frankie Muniz in Agent Cody Banks (2003), is equipped in the lab by Darrell Hammond's Earl. In Stormbreaker (2006), another teenage spy, Alex Rider, is equipped by gadget master Smithers, played by Stephen Fry. In Mission Impossible III (2006) computer wizard Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg, is not strictly a gadget expert, but his appearance nonetheless recalls the technical help provided by Q in the Bond films. There is a more obvious nod to Q in Christopher Nolan's Batman films, commencing with Batman Begins (2005). Lucius Fox, former head of research at Wayne Enterprises, becomes Bruce Wayne's armourer, and is shown in a workshop or laboratory, where he develops and tests equipment. Apart from providing technical support, Fox is also something of a mentor to Wayne, just as Desmond Llewelyn's Q is in the later Bond films.

We can see, then, from this brief survey of Bondian spy films and spoofs, that in the 1960s gadgets played an important role in the films, but Q as a character was absent or a very minor figure. It is only from the 1990s that Q-like characters were regularly depicted. We only need return to the Bond films to explain this pattern. Though seeming to be an essential component of the Bond film, Q's lab was not routinely shown until the mid 1970s, beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Before then, Q appears in M's office or equips Bond in the field (the notable exception being Goldfinger). The obvious point here, therefore, is that, as the lab scene did not appear much before the late 1970s, it could not have been imitated in the films of the 1960s. And it is possible that Q was not imitated in those early films, because despite the attraction of Bond Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, the scene in From Russia With Love in M's office where Bond is given the attaché case had greater impact in popular culture. It is this scene which was imitated through the decade. By the 1990s, when the lab scene was well established in popular culture, and because of factors such as Desmond Llewelyn's portrayal and the amusing interplay between Q and Bond, Q became an essential part of Bondian spy films and spoofs.

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