In 1997, Pierce Brosnan’s second film as James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies was released, giving the spy a modern soundtrack, modern haircut, modern handgun, and modern BMW 750iL. Bond meant business.. mostly because he literally looked like a businessman.
The Businessman-like Bond in a BMW has always been an argumentative issue of Pierce Brosnan’s first three films, especially featuring the German brand - it was the first time MI6 gave the spy something not overbearingly British. In the film his cover is a banker, so businessman is sort of the goal. Nonetheless, fans complained about how he is supposed to be in some lavishly ridiculous super-car or nothing at all, while others complain when he is given just that. This article is going to quickly cover a little history of how this came to be, and then I’ll get to the good stuff.
The product placement in Bond films, as with any film, are a huge aid to production in that they often take millions of dollars worth of pressure off of the film’s budget. It leads to free advertising through the product branding and helps pay the bills for what usually amounts to a few seconds up to a few minutes of the product getting screen time. As the years go on, budgets for movies inflate - especially big films like the Bond franchise - and thus more money is gathered from more sources. Big companies want to tie into big movies, and in return everybody wins. That’s where brand-enhancers come in; people like the great, late Karen Sortito.
Working for MGM, her role was to bring companies and movie projects together to aid the financing of films, and help expand both the film projects and their featured product globally. She was extremely successful, introducing Bond to BMW, Visa, Smirnoff, AVIS, Ericsson phones, Heineken beer, and Omega watches. For 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, her and her team reportedly covered the production cost of $100 Million dollars completely in product tie-ins. That is absolutely unheard of. While her work has been largely criticized as cheapening the Bond image, her impact is apparent even twenty years later, with Heineken, Omega, and many other brands she introduced to MGM still appearing in the Bond films to date. She later worked for the City Of New York’s tourism and marketing departments. You can read more about Karen’s life work here.
It started with the BMW Z3 featuring in Brosnan’s first film, 1994’s GoldenEye. The car’s looks are questionable, and the sky blue paint job really did not help. Many felt Bond looked like all other Z3 drivers - a sad and lonely retired golf resort loiterer. Yes, it was fitted with everything from stinger-missiles, a GPS tracking system, and self-destructing capability with the aid of Q-branch, but perhaps the biggest issue with the Z3 was that it featured for less than two minutes in the entirety of the film. He gives it over to Jack Wade of the C.I.A. in exchange for a Cuban Cessna plane - and then crashes said plane almost immediately. C.I.A. - 1, MI6 - 0. Altogether this car in this film is one of the worst offenders in the case against product placement.
Brosnan’s second BMW Bond-car came in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies as a grey BMW 750iL. This is a car I fell in love with immediately (albeit about eight or so years after the film came out, when I finally realized there were more than, like, two Bond movies). It is one of the reasons I bought my BMW 325ci a few years later, and probably where my affection for cars was realized. It is easily the best looking 7-Series in my eyes, with its thin athletic profile and perfect proportions. I would even argue it was a classless car for its time; you could find them anywhere from the European AVIS rental car lot to the “Reserved for Chief Financial Officer” spot under the biggest building in downtown Charlotte. This bimmer stuck around for more than two minutes in the film, and we should all be thankful for that.
The vehicle was outfitted with a state of the art defense array, able to shock would-be thieves, take the hardest of sledgehammer swings (even to the windows, somehow), and an around-car teargas deployment system. Bulletproof body panels and glass, as well as re-inflating tires, a retractable rack of missiles on the roof, a mechanism releasing tire-puncturing metal spikes from the rear, and a metal-cutting saw that raises from under the forward BMW badge finish off the exterior suite of gadgets. It had an artificial-intelligence-like voice capability allowing Bond to interact with the German accented female car itself, which Q felt would better catch Bond’s attention. Also inside were a vast array of hidden cubbies, including a fingerprint coded glove-box safe. The 750iL’s final gadget is by far one of the best gadgets ever given to a Bond car, and one it shares with Brosnan-Bond’s third car, the BMW Z8 in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.
When Q, under the guise of an AVIS rental car worker and played by the wonderful Desmond Llewelyn, demonstrates to Bond the capabilities of his new 7-Series he brings it out via remote-control. Using a specially modified Sony Ericsson phone, which opens at a hinge and features a trackpad similar to a laptop, Bond is able to pilot the car remotely using the forward and rear cameras as a guide. Q struggles and suggests it takes some time to get used to, and then Bond gives it an almost effortless lap around the airport hangar, stopping the car just inches from him and Q’s kneecaps. “I think we understand each other.. *smirk*” In reality the stunt team modified the car to be driven from below the belt-line in the backseat, allowing the car to appear remotely controlled for filming.
For the BMW Z8 in Brosnan’s third film, he ditches the phone device and uses a key fob almost identical to that of any other BMW to navigate the vehicle remotely. I only fanboy-ed a little when the dealer handed me mine. It just unlocks my doors. Sometimes.
This brings me to the exciting news that soon you (non-Americans) will be able to get out of your car with your key fob in hand, and use it to drive your (as yet to be unveiled) brand new 7-Series remotely. Unbelievable, right?! It only took BMW twenty years to catch up with MI6 and allow anybody to whirl their brand new car around an AVIS airport hangar. Except you cant. The functionality is limited to going forwards and backwards slower than a century old turtle on muscle relaxers. And don’t even think about hitting anything - because you literally do not have to think about hitting anything. The car will automatically stop once its sensors determine something is within its imaginary bubble by slamming on the brakes harder than the first time you tried to heel-and-toe downshift. Essentially this is a function perfect for parking, forever saving you from that awkward face-to-window smudging maneuver you do to get out when you can’t open your door because some jackass in a HUMVEE decided to park in Philly.
Photo: top - Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), middle - The World Is Not Enough (1999), bottom - bmwblog.com, see below
Eh, close enough. You can read more about the new features and dynamics of the upcoming 7-Series over on BMW Blog, where they got an exclusive look at the remote-control technology, as well as other functions of the big new 7.