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Bond Gadgets Stand Test Of Time (But Not Physics)

Oct 4, 2012
Originally published on October 4, 2012 10:19 am

James Bond — the film franchise, that is — is turning 50. But if 007 is getting up there in years, his gadgets will never get old.

Throughout the series, the creators have always come up with wild gear for Bond to bring along on his missions — while often taking a lot more creative license than they might have needed. They've come up with pieces that were inventive and prescient at best, impossible in the real world at worst, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tells NPR's David Greene.

Tyson and Greene dig through the inventory of Bond's best contraptions, scoping out which tools prove scientifically viable, fact checking the ones that are not, and discussing why his gadgets are still relevant, even today.


Interview Highlights

On Bond's wristwatch in 'Live And Let Die,' which emits a magnetic field so strong it can deflect a bullet at long range

"I was younger at the time, of course, as was everyone who's watching it — but I knew that bullets are made of lead. Lead is not magnetic. So you're not deflecting bullets with your magnetic device. I'm sorry — all right, if bullets were made of nickel or cobalt or iron, yeah, then maybe it could do something. But no! I'm sorry. ... I didn't give him that one. I said, 'Nope, you messed up there.' "

On a ring that, when twisted, will emit a frequency high enough to break glass

"Rigid, brittle things can break if you find the resonant frequency. This is the frequency that the material wants to vibrate at — if you do that and then up the volume level, you can shatter it. And that's all real. But the fact that you can carry it on your ring — that's a little harder to take. But it's James Bond, and so he gets stuff that you don't."

On 'The Vanish,' an Aston Martin model that is 'as good as invisible'

"I want one of those. Whether or not it's an Aston Martin. I mean — so first of all, there are invisible things in the world, and they're called transparent, OK. Glass is essentially invisible to the light that we see with our eyes. It's not invisible to other forms of light, like ultraviolet or infrared. The cameras on the other side of the car have to look at every possible angle that you would be viewing the car, from your side. And we haven't figured out really how to do that yet."

On what he might invent for James Bond, if given the opportunity

"You know, I hadn't thought about that. I think — hmm. What made the Bond gadgets attractive is that they used a little bit of what you already knew was out there, and just took it to some extreme, forcing you to say, 'Yeah, that could happen,' even if it had to violate a few laws of physics along the way."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

All this week, we're marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No." Today, five decades worth of amazing Bond gadgets.

MORNING EDITION's David Greene checked in with astrophysicist, and on this morning, gadget guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson. First up, that famous laser from "Goldfinger."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GOLDFINGER")

GERT FROBE: (as Auric Goldfinger) You are looking at an industrial laser, which emits an extraordinary light, not to be found in nature. It can project a spot on the Moon; or at closer range, cut through solid metal. I will show you.

SEAN CONNERY: (as James Bond) You expect me to talk?

FROBE: (as Auric Goldfinger) No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So, Dr. Tyson, could you strap me to a table and kill me with a laser that could cut through me?

(LAUGHTER)

DR. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So, why doesn't he just shoot him? You know?

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: I guess that might be simpler.

TYSON: So that's my first thought. But I loved the fact that he referenced the Moon. Goldfinger, 1964, mid '60s, we had the Gemini program at the time. But Neil Armstrong, in 1969, would lay a set of corner reflectors - especially designed mirrors - that were designed to reflect back laser light, that we would then beam out from a telescope; using a telescope in reverse, by the way, and measure the distance to the Moon accurate to one centimeter.

So, that Moon reference, I thought, was really cool. Yeah, it could cut you. Yeah, we have lasers that can cut you in half, for sure.

GREENE: Good to know. Let's go to 1973, "Live and Let Die." This is when James Bond was being played by Roger Moore and he had a really cool magnetic watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LIVE AND LET DIE")

BERNARD LEE: (as M) Good God.

ROGER MOORE: (as James Bond) You see, by pulling out this button, sir, it turns the watch into a hyper-intensified magnetic field. Powerful enough to even deflect the path of a bullet - at long range, or so Q claims.

LEE: (as M) I feel very tempted to test that theory right now.

GREENE: And your impression of the theory?

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: Oh, I couldn't - you know, I was younger at the time, of course. But I knew that bullets are made of lead. Lead is not magnetic.

GREENE: Ah...

TYSON: So you're not deflecting bullets with your magnetic device. I'm sorry. Alright, if bullets were made of nickel or cobalt or iron, yeah, then maybe it could do something. But no, I'm sorry. So I was not - I didn't give him that one.

GREENE: Fact-checking with Neil deGrasse Tyson. All right, let's go to the Pierce Brosnan days when he was playing James Bond, 2002.

TYSON: You got all the James Bonds.

GREENE: Yeah, we got them all. It's Bond Week. Two thousand two, "Die Another Day" is the movie and Q, Bond's gadget man gives him a ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DIE ANOTHER DAY")

JOHN CLEESE: (as Q) One pane unbreakable glass, one standard issue ring finger. Twist so, voila.

(as Q) Ultra-high frequency single digit sonic agitator unit.

GREENE: A ring that you just do something and it can shatter glass.

TYSON: Rigid, brittle things can break if you find the resonant frequency. This is the frequency that the material wants to vibrate at. If you do that and then up the volume level, you can shatter it. And that's all real. But the fact that you can carry it on your ring, that's a little harder to take.

GREENE: Yeah.

TYSON: But it's James Bond. And so, he gets stuff that you don't.

GREENE: He gets cooler stuff.

TYSON: Yeah.

GREENE: I heard you wanted to talk about a certain disappearing car that you love from...

TYSON: Oh, yeah. I think that was the coolest thing ever out of all Bond gadgets. What, did you have a clip for that?

GREENE: Ah, we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DIE ANOTHER DAY")

CLEESE: (as Q) Aston Martin called it the Vanquish. We call it the Vanish.

PIERCE BROSNAN: (as James Bond) Oh, very good.

CLEESE: (as Q) Adaptive camouflage: tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light emitting polymer skin on the opposite side. You see, to the causal eye it's as good as invisible.

TYSON: I want one of those...

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: You want one...

TYSON: ...whether or not it's an Aston Martin. So first of all, there are invisible things in the world, and they're called transparent. OK?

GREENE: Yeah.

TYSON: Glass is essentially invisible to the light that we see with our eyes. It's not invisible to other forms of light, like ultraviolet or infrared. The cameras on the other side of the car have to look at every possible angle that you would be viewing the car, from your side. And we haven't figured out really how to do that yet.

GREENE: But wait. Are you - is this a - you're talking science here, but you're making it sound like we might be close to having an invisible car.

TYSON: Oh, yeah. Well, invisibility, yeah. Yeah, oh yeah. We got people working on this for simple cases. If the person is looking directly at it, you can fool the person by putting an image from the other side - and as long as they don't move around too much. Yeah, we got that.

GREENE: Let's say you're Q or, I guess, T in your case. So what...

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: Yeah. Well, I like that.

GREENE: Yeah, there we go.

TYSON: Yeah, call me T.

GREENE: I'll call you T. What would you invent for Bond, if you could?

TYSON: You know, I hadn't thought about that. I think, hmm. What made the Bond gadgets attractive is that they used a little bit of what you already knew was out there, and just took it to some extreme, forcing you to say, yeah, that could happen, even if it had to violate a few laws of physics along the way.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Just realistic enough, I guess. He's the man we turn to for all things science, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Thanks, T.

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: I'm T. There you go.

MONTAGNE: Neil deGrasse Tyson with our own David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Thank you very much, R. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.