DEARBORN, Mich. - Don't let anybody tell you it's easy hanging onto the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, especially after you've worn yourself out fighting off a homicidal maniac. Nevertheless, I think I pulled it off with a certain panache, considering I was holding a notebook and pen in one hand at the time.
I was trying to play the part of British superspy James Bond in a scene from the 1985 movie A View to a Kill during a visit to a 007 exhibit that opened last weekend at the Henry Ford Museum.
“Bond. James Bond,” created by England's National Museum of Photography, Film, & Television, is a clever and engaging interactive exhibit that celebrates 40 years of one of the world's best-known film franchises. The Ford museum is the first North American venue for the traveling exhibition, which will remain here through the end of 2003.
More than 100 props and other items from Bond movies are included in the exhibit, but rather than just looking at things, visitors are drawn into the world of Hollywood's most celebrated spy with plenty of multimedia interaction.
Which is how I found myself in such a precarious position atop the Golden Gate Bridge. A clip from A View to a Kill plays continuously outside the mini-set, showing the life-and-death struggle on the upper spans of the bridge between Bond (Roger Moore in this incarnation) and bad guy Max Zorin, played in the movie by Christopher Walken. My bright orange prop bridge section looked just like the one in the clip, minus the nutty villain.
As I clung to the bridge, I gazed at myself on a monitor for a while, the traffic in the background moving by far below. Then I let my grip loosen and watched dispassionately as my image slipped out of the monitor's view. For all a viewer would know, I was hurling to an ugly death on the roadway below.
“Looks like we lost another one!” called out Marc Greuther, the exhibit curator, who was watching my less-than-gripping performance on another monitor outside the set.
The exhibition takes visitors behind the scenes to see some of the gadgets, vehicles, sets, concept drawings, storyboards, costume designs, and props that have helped make James Bond a cinematic icon since 1962, when the first Bond movie, Dr. No, came out. Monitors show clips from the various films, and familiar music from Bond soundtracks is piped through hidden speakers.
Greuther explained that the exhibit is intended to be much more than a collection of movie memorabilia. “It's not just props and clips, but something that shows a broader creative endeavor,” he said.
The Bond exhibit is a natural fit for the Ford museum, inasmuch as the Ford Motor Co. has supplied vehicles for several Bond movies, including the most recent one, Die Another Day, released last November. In fact, three vehicles actually used in the movie, all made by Ford or its subsidiaries, are on display outside the exhibit's big double doors.
There's Bond's silver Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, equipped with 9mm machine guns protruding from the hood, heat-seeking missiles bristling from the grille, and an ejection seat. Also, the limited-edition “007” coral Thunderbird driven by actress Halle Berry in the movie.
A sleek, green Jaguar XKR was driven by Zao, one of the film's villains, and includes a Gatling gun behind the seats, missiles in the grille, and door-mounted rocket launchers.
“These cars are unique to this museum,” said Andrew Johnson, a spokesman for The Henry Ford. “They belong to Ford, so when the exhibit closes here and moves on, the cars won't be part of it.”
Inside the exhibit, visitors walk through a stylized gun barrel - like the one seen in the title sequence of several Bond movies - and learn a little about 007 creator Ian Fleming, whose spy novels were the basis of the movies. Then they are issued magnetic “smart cards” that qualify them as agents-in-training. At several points in the exhibit they can slide their personalized ID cards into computer displays to access “classified information,” answer questions, and activate different features.
The cards track the progress of each visitor's “mission,” and before leaving the exhibit, they are “debriefed” and find out how well they stacked up as secret agents.
“With your `agent card,' you can determine how good you are at being what Bond is - a spy,” said Greuther.
Visitors are briefed in M's office, a staple of every Bond movie, then sent to Q's workshop to check out some of the intricate weapons and gadgets designed for the Bond films. Among them: a one-man “crocodile” submarine (from Octopussy, 1983), a plaster leg cast with a built-in shotgun (Goldeneye, 1995), and a ski pole gun (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977).
Inside a villain's maze of mirrors are some of the most popular artifacts from Bond movies. They include:
Along with all their gadgets and action sequences, 007 movies have always been known for their sexy “Bond girls,” from the first, Ursula Andress (Dr. No), through the most recent, Halle Berry (Die Another Day). An area dedicated to them includes wardrobe design sketches, fabric swatches, and a few Bond girl outfits, including a dress worn by Solitaire (Jane Seymour) in Live and Let Die (1973) and a catsuit worn by Wai-Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow Never Dies (1977).
Other displays are devoted to Bond movie stunts, including a storyboard detailing a boat chase in 1963's From Russia with Love and, of course, the partial Golden Gate Bridge set from A View to a Kill.
Among the many artifacts in the exhibit is the only remaining prop from the very first Bond movie, 1962's Dr. No: a bottle of Dom Perignon '55.
Just as every Bond movie has a nail-biting thriller of an ending, so, too, does the exhibit. Visitors find themselves in a nuclear reactor control room, with just 60 seconds to shut down the reactor before something terrible happens. As the power builds, the warning lights go from yellow to red, and the room shudders, visitors frantically flip switches and press buttons in an attempt to avert disaster.
I'm not sure how successful I was in saving mankind in that last mission, which could be why, after swiping my agent ID card through the last computer and being debriefed on my performance on the exhibit's many challenges, I was advised that I probably shouldn't give up my day job in hopes of becoming a secret agent.
But visitors who want to can take their agent ID cards home and continue with other spy missions online.
Asked if he had a favorite among the 20 or so Bond movies, curator Greuther hemmed and hawed a bit before finally 'fessing up: “Actually, I always kind of liked the books better.”
The “Spy Store” gift shop outside the exhibit features all manner of Bond souvenirs, from books to shirts, from Swatch watches to briefcases. There is even an exotic Barbie doll that comes with an accompanying tuxedoed James Bond - but if you look closely, you can see that Bond is actually Ken in disguise.
For those who might want a more extravagant souvenir, there are raffle tickets on sale for a 2003 special edition Bond Thunderbird just like the one driven by Halle Berry in the movie. Only 700 of the limited-edition T-birds, with coral paint jobs and white leather interior, have been manufactured, with a list price of about $43,000. Raffle tickets are $10 or six for $50, with proceeds going to educational programs at The Henry Ford.
The Bond exhibit is the first to occupy a new, 9,000-square-foot flexible gallery space at the Ford museum. Designed to accommodate major traveling exhibits and special collections, the space can be divided into three sections and is equipped with a fiber optic system and theatrical lighting. Future exhibits will include disco culture, Vietnam's effect on America, and quilts.
The “Bond. James Bond” exhibit is at the Henry Ford Museum through the end of this year. Timed tickets are $7, in addition to the regular museum admission cost of $10 to $14. Information: 313-982-6001 or www.thehenryford.org. The museum is part of The Henry Ford complex, which also includes Greenfield Village and the IMAX Theatre.