A key theme in Spectre, the latest James Bond film that is currently showing in Malaysia, is the current capability of drones and blanket digital surveillance, and how it may render things like the 00 programme, revolving around lone agents in the field, obsolete – but at the expense of individual freedoms.
At one point, a character tells M (Ralph Fiennes), the head of MI6 and James Bond’s boss, that he doesn’t matter anymore.
“But something has to,” is M’s quiet reply.
“A Bond film should cling to enduring values,” Fiennes says, during press interviews in London recently, where Star2.com got the chance to speak to the film’s stars.
“Sam (Mendes, the director) wanted M to be the voice of those values. M has a strong sense of the way you do things, the way you conduct yourself in your profession.
“There’s a moral line which for him, even if it … might lead to the killing of somebody, there are rules of engagement.”
In the real world, of course, Fiennes does acknowledge the need for some measure of surveillance.
“There’s an article in the Telegraph responding to the ideas in the film as a starting point. It was arguing that for our security to stop someone who’s planning to walk onto a Tube train with a sack full of explosives, we need to be able to track flows of information and patterns of communication.
“We don’t hear about things that have been stopped. A number of things which would have been terrible. So I think there is an argument for a degree of digital surveillance. I don’t know how you could argue against it … if we want to walk down our streets with our children and our loved ones and go shopping, go to cinemas and go to events …”
The conversation delves further into the theme of surveillance, and how future Bond films might see M expanding MI6’s operations to adopt more such technology.
“Oh you’re all taking this film very seriously, whoa! God!” he exclaims, to counterpoints that this is only because since the Bond films are serious business to their global legion of fans.
“Probably that’s the next thing – how is M going to come into the modern world?” he acknowledges. “In Spectre, Sam has tried to deal with the current fears of how much we all are under surveillance.
“M takes the position that we don’t just work on surveillance. That’s a part of it, but it is also about human contact, the evaluation of the other through actually looking them in the eye. The old spy skills still have a place.”
It’s an uncanny echo of a point made by leading man Daniel Craig in an interview the previous day: “Obviously Bond is not into blanket surveillance – he thinks you should be in the field, you should go and talk to people, look them in the eye, learn their language, pick up part of their culture, do whatever you need to do so that you can find peace.
“ I know he’s a killer but his role in the world is to stop wars and bring about peace. So he’s against drones and he’s against all that sort of stuff, and that’s the conflict.”
And how does the spectre of spy-eliminating technology appear from the perspective of the ones most invested in the series – producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli? Are spies still relevant, in the kind of environment that even the modern-era Bond movies are acknowledging?
“We saw in the front pages today in Iraq where people went in and saved those 70 people who were going to be executed,” says Wilson, referring to a joint US-Kurdish operation to rescue IS-held hostages. “They saved them – so you do need people on the ground.”
Broccoli chimes in: “And that’s what these Bond movies celebrate. It’s the heroism of human beings in the field … men and women, all over the world.”
Taking on the bad guys of Spectre