Apparently the most viewed images at news web sites feature pictures of ‘hardware’ i.e. guns, tanks and planes. If that sort of popularity can be repeated in a TV show then this is the show to do it.
Mythbusters is a kind of surreal amalgam of Top Gear and Robot Wars. It’s presented mostly by Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, two guys who are a cross between magicians Penn & Teller and the comic-shop owner out of The Simpsons. They’re in better physical shape, but they both sport similar beard and moustache arrangements.
In this edition of the show they methodically recreate stunts from James Bond films, in a style reminiscent of the Darwin Awards. If you’re not familiar with them, the Darwin Awards are sarcastically named after people who have killed themselves trying to do crazy things, like the guy who put a rocket on the back of his car, then accidentally fired himself into a mountain.
Hyneman and Savage have an excuse, because Discovery are paying them, and we’re watching, and possibly also because they’re American. Of course with the costs involved they only get to go into a few stunts in detail. Three to be precise. Bizarrely two are from the same film. Live & Let Die, whilst the other is from Casino Royale.
Because their insurance won’t cover them for riding a speedboat over a ramp at 45mph, they end up fixing the boat to work by remote control, run by them in another boat travelling alongside it… Health and Safety in the show is as logical as you would expect.
There’s also a second Mythbuster team: two guys and a girl, over-enthusiastically shooting at gas tanks and exclaiming at the results. Whilst they are obviously trying to introduce some youth into the show, I suspect the target audience will prefer to watch Hyneman and Savage behaving like a pair of mischievous Uncles. The final character involved is Buster, the crash test dummy (or rather dummies, as he doesn’t always make it through the stunts).
Watching playful Americans pretend to be in a Bond film (wearing tuxedos, saying ‘my name is …whatever it is’, drinking martinis etc.) is an experience that could border on the nauseating, although here it wasn’t as annoying as it might have been, and it probably won’t spoil the experience for the show’s target audience.
The meat of the show is enjoyable viewing, as outrageous electromagnets, life size remote control mechanisms and extremely dangerous guns, bullets and tanks of explosive gas are harnessed for the viewer’s entertainment.
Of course ‘Mythbusting’ James Bond is kind of missing the point, as it’s supposed to be fantasy and larger than life, not rigorously true to details. Similarly, Mythbusters is not trying to scientifically explain, but rather to demonstrate entertainingly. If we really wanted to know the facts, we could just ask the James Bond stunt team. In fact, part way through their flying boat test, we gather they knew that the original required many practice runs, and trashed several boats. They’ve just got one.
At its best, Bond technology takes the latest technological ideas and just pushes them a plausible little bit further. For instance in Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond used a touch screen, handheld phone computer to remote control a car, through a camera image from the car displayed on his screen. All of the individual elements were from the real world, and this sequence just tied them together into something exciting and amazing, yet plausible.
At its worst, Bond technology takes a step too far. Invisible cars (as in Die Another Day) are never going to be plausible. Reliance on such an unlikely gimmick distracts us from the adventure.
The Mythbusters team take the specifics of Bond’s stunts very literally, and invent some specifics of their own. Bond exploded a gas tank with a shot from a nine millimetre gun, so that is what they attempt to do. However, they also decide exactly how far away he was standing, to see whether he would have been hit by the blast.
When the technology that Bond was apparently using doesn’t do the job, the Mythbusters ramp up the firepower, with bigger guns and more explosive bullets. Eventually we get to see the explosions, bullet damage and leaping vehicles we were hoping for. High speed cameras replay the action in slow motion so that we can observe collisions and explosions in all their exciting detail.
In conclusion, not a hard-nosed deconstruction of technical realities of a larger-than-life film genre like James Bond, but a reasonably enjoyable ‘push the technology till something explodes’ approach to explaining film stunts.
The show is due to be broadcast on Discovery on Thursday 6th March 2008 at 8pm.