Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Video Game #9: Spy Hunter (1983)
What’s better than watching James Bond? Driving his gadget-filled sports car … or at least the arcade version of it. In the most obvious idea ever for a video game, Spy Hunter put you behind the sexy sexy wheel of a sleek hi-tech ride and sent you out to make the world — or at least the street — safe for democracy.
Seriously, who hasn’t been stuck in traffic at one point or another and wished they had a machine gun to clear the road ahead?
Spy Hunter armed you with all the clandestine classics — machine guns, oil slicks, smoke screens, surface to air missiles — to neutralize wave after wave of nefarious opponents in dark sedans trying to run you off the road, slash your tires, or blow you up. Of course it was a huge smash.
According to something I read on the internet, the designers at Bally originally wanted to use the James Bond theme for their game, but when the rights proved too costly, they went with another brassy soundtrack from the height of the Cold War: Henry Mancini’s theme to Peter Gunn. A now-forgotten ’50s TV show about a tough gumshoe — forgotten except for Mancini’s cool compositions — the pick was a perfect for Spy Hunter, and single-handedly reintroduced the Mancini song to a new generation … at least until Art of Noise came along.
Numerous attempts have been made to update, reinvent and sequelize Spy Hunter (every few years there’s even a threat of a big screen movie), but nothing has been as remotely successful — or fun — as the original arcade game. Like the Peter Gunn theme, it’s a classic all by itself.
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
Short Story #18: “The Property of a Lady” — Ian Fleming (1963)
What, you thought it was all going to be sci-fi?
“The Property of a Lady” was one of Ian Fleming’s last short stories to be published, and has James Bond … going to an auction. That’s it. No shootouts, no seductions, no supervillains — just secret agent 007 as part of a counter-espionage team quietly and carefully taking down a spy network by … paying attention to details.
There was a time when I was obsessed with the James Bond movies — partially because of their pop culture cache, but mostly (I deduced later) because my parents wouldn’t let us go seem them when we were growing up. They were forbidden, taboo — and therefore of course irresistibly alluring. Eventually I saw all the Bond movies, some multiple times, and finally came to realize they were all pretty much ridiculous.*
The books on the other hand … the books are a fascinating time capsule of the Cold War, and for all the over-the-top plotting of the various megalomaniacs intent on world domination, Ian Fleming’s spy novels are constructed on a substrate of actual spy craft, meticulous detail and procedure. Fleming’s greatest creation isn’t even supposed to be an interesting person. The author once described James Bond as “an extremely dull man to whom things happened.”
Among all the martini-shaking, product placement, explosions and Bond girls, this got lost along the way (although the one film that holds up great as a movie, and a Bond film — 2006’s “Casino Royale” — is the one that also adheres the closest to Ian Fleming’s original novel.)
*Except for the music composed by John Barry. That’s still fucking awesome.