Sunday, June 12, 2011

Latest Tech Gadgets...Straight from the Movie Screen

By Joe Neumaier for our Content Partner: Style + Tech for Men

New Gadgets Straight From the Big Screen
True story: I once thought I could order a portable hovercraft from the back of a Marvel comic for $10.

This was in the mid-1970s, when I was 8, and such things seemed within the realm of possibility. I remember the issue (“Spider-Man Meets Daredevil”), the black-and-white ad (right under the equally respectable one for X-ray Specs) and the fact that the hovercraft looked about the size of a bathtub.

I also recall my mother’s exasperation when I pleaded with her to order it for me. “If they were really selling a hovercraft that could fly,” she said, “do you think you could get it from a comic book for $10?”

Since I haven’t seen many hovercrafts on the open highway, I guess mom was right … and I’ve even begun to suspect that the X-ray specs were a scam, too.

Comic books may not have carried me into my future fantasies, but movies and TV have more than followed through on their pop-culture promise. In fact, from wireless communicators to personal satellite tracking, the super-tech stuff we saw on the big and small screens are now largely a part of our everyday lives.

Here’s a run-down of just a few that have gone from outrageous to obvious, and from “No way!” to everyday.

Big Screen Gadget: 007’s Aston Martin Db5 Dashboard Map, Goldfinger (1964)

Any list of movie gizmos has to include the spy-daddy of them all. For simple “it-was-wild-then, we-got-it-now” nostalgia, the car-tracking system included in 007’s Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger is still the one that seems most on the money. The tracking device that Bond uses to follow the baddie around the Swiss Alps is shown as a dashboard map -- much like the one you used to get to your girlfriend’s parents’ house for the first time. You decide which is scarier.

Real Gadget:
GPS Systems

Today’s GPS systems offer text-or-speech guidance, 3-D mapping perspectives and multi-destination routing. These days, a digital dame with all the answers in your dashboard is pretty much a standard option. No word yet on when we’ll get our licenses to kill.

Available at
Big Screen Gadget: The Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst (ARIA), Eagle Eye (2008)

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Tasked with world-wide surveillance in the eye-in-the-sky government thriller, this super-computer tracked Shia LaBeouf’s every move. Remember? Well, start watching your back.

Real Gadget: Phone Tracker Spy Gadget App

Now you can be tracked the same way by suspicious bosses, ex-girlfriends or the folks at NetFlix who want their copy of Showgirls back. Just enter any phone number and the app scans the globe to pinpoint that phone’s location, complete with graphics that zero in on the target on a mini map. Sadly, you won’t hear the ’60s hit “Secret Agent Man” as you use it -- music isn’t part of the package, despite the app being available on iTunes. But hey, for a 99-cent download, you can just hum it.

Available at

Big Screen Gadget: Videophone, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Hey Captain Obvious! Forget about Star Trek laying down the matrix for cell phones -- we’re locking our pop-culture tractor beam on the stylish videophones that provided crucial plot points in 1982’s prescient Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Real Gadget:
Skype Online Services and iPhone’s FaceTime

Get Star Trek-worthy service with Skype (sadly without the Shatner shtick and shag carpeting) or the soon-to-materialize FaceTime video calling feature, which will be available for the fourth-generation of the iPhone. This could be an upgrade from the jumpy two-second delay that Skype can’t seem to shake. Catch up with us for a little face time when you join the 21st Century.

Available on and

Big Screen Gadget: Wristwatch Videophone, Dick Tracy (1990)
In Warren Beatty’s comic-book flick Dick Tracy, the Depression-era private eye faced down Clayface, Flattop and a frighteningly eyebrow-less Madonna using an unthinkable assortment of crime-fighting gadgets. Among the most famous -- and least believable to 1930s comic-book fans -- was his wristwatch videophone.
Real Gadget: Touch-screen Cell Phone Wristwatch

Hold it right there, Johnny Luddite! The Touch-screen Cell Phone Wristwatch is now armed and dangerous! As Tracy would say, here’s the keen low-down: The whole shebang’s a jacked-up timepiece that lets you make calls and even watch movies on a 1.3-inch screen with 176 x 128 pixel resolution. It also features MP3 files and a built-in speakerphone, so you don’t have to hold your wrist up to your mouth. Higher-end models have a camera, a Flash interface and quad-band network capabilities. Prices fall anywhere between $75 for a basic model and $300 to $800 for a higher-end model.

Big Screen Gadget: Mini Rocket-launching Pen, Never Say Never Again (1983); Sodium Pentothal-fueled Ballpoint, Stormbreaker (2006)

Every big-screen secret agent from Bond to Bourne has made his mark in spy-flick history with some variation on the multipurpose pen. The pen has often been mightier than the sword -- and a lot easier to fit into your pocket.

Real Gadget: Spy Pen

The already-on-the-market Spy Pen -- priced at $100 -- offers up to three hours of video-recording time via a pinhole camera that’s located near the back of the pen. You can also store 32 hours of footage on 8 GB of memory. You can then download it all to your computer via a USB cable and instantly watch videos of your housekeeper stealing thirty winks thanks to the 1.3 megapixel camera with a 1280 x 960 resolution. And, yes, you can use it to write. Here’s a piece of advice before you decide that this device can solve all your problems: Crossword puzzles are still best done in pencil.

Big Screen Gadget:
Manual Telephone-voice Changer, Hopscotch (1980)
In the Reagan-era comedy gem, Walter Matthau plays a retired-but-disgruntled CIA agent -- which is really the most dangerous kind -- who calls his ex-cohorts and nearly strangles himself trying to disguise his voice to sound like Eleanor Roosevelt’s. Today, such risks are completely unnecessary: We have sophisticated equipment to make us sound like dead presidents’ wives. Want to try it yourself?

Real Gadget: TVC-2 Voice Changer and Software

Powered by three AA batteries, it lets you alter your voice eight different ways at the press of a button. (Think of the possibilities: Man! Woman! Child! Eleanor Roosevelt!) Software is also available for your PC, which can throw in background noises if you prefer. If it wasn’t for that damn phone-tracking device we loved a few paragraphs ago, we’d be making Bart Simpson-style prank calls right now!

Recorder: $60 at
Free software at

Joe Neumaier Joe Neumaier is the film critic and film editor at the New York Daily News. He’s written about movies and entertainment for The New York Times, Entertainment
Weekly, USA TODAY, the London Observer and Fortune.


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