The Physics of being Roger Moore

How many of his Bond stunts and gadgets are plausible? Physicists look at five of them

Written by Kabir Firaque | Published: May 29, 2017 12:23 am
Roger Moore, James Bond, Roger Moore death, James Bond gadgets, roger moore films, james bond films On Moore’s passing, a look at the physics involved in five of his iconic stunts and gadgets.

Sheer magnetism, James Bond assures his friend, one of a handful of unnamed Bond girls and played by Madeline Smith in Live and Let Die (1973). Fans could interpret the remark as an introduction: it was the first Bond sequence for Roger Moore, who died last week. It certainly is a one-liner with a double meaning. The friend has just remarked about Bond’s “delicate touch”, drawing the remark, while he is secretly using a magnetic wristwatch to unzip the back of her dress. The watch was the first of countless gadgets Moore would use, a Bond trademark that would flourish during his seven-film, 12-year stint — alongside the stunts, the double-meaning one-liners and the “magnetism” of a sensitive Bond replacing a brutal Sean Connery.

But how much scientific credibility could one give any of these gadgets and stunts? A subject of intense discussion among Bond fans who are scientifically inclined, some of these stunts and gadgets pass their test while others don’t. Among such fans is Metin Tolan, a physicist at the Technical University of Dortmund, whose Geschüttelt, nicht gerührt: James Bond und die Physik looks at the physics behind the stunts. The book is “unfortunately available only in German”, Tolan tells The Indian Express in an email, in which he argues for or against a number of stunts with Moore as Bond.

On Moore’s passing, a look at the physics involved in five of his iconic stunts and gadgets. The analysis of one stunt comes from a physicist’s article in Wired, the rest largely from Tolan. Tolan was in India in 2015, delivering lectures in Mumbai and Delhi on Bond and physics. And yes, he assures fellow Bond fans, it is possible for a magnetic wristwatch to work as a zipper opener.

The magnetic watch- Live & Let Die, 1973

The magnetic watch.

It’s a specialised wristwatch, Roger Moore’s very first James Bond gadget, handed to 007 by Miss Moneypenny after it has come back from “repair” from Q, the gadget wizard. Bond demonstrates the watch’s specialty by using it to whisk the spoon away from a bemused M’s teacup. “By pulling out this button, sir,” Bond explains to his boss, “it tuns 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…”

Can it work? Only if Bond has superhuman body resistance, it turns out.

“The problem,” physicist Metin Tolan tells The Indian Express, “is that the spoon is approximately 1 m away. Therefore a huge current has to be put in the watch to generate a sufficiently high magnetic field at 1 m distance. It turns out that even the best possible watch needs a current of 5 amperes leading to a heating temperature of 250°C… Bond has to cope with this temperature somehow.”

There’s no problem, however, with Bond using the watch to unzip his friend’s dress. “This is simple,” says Tolan, “since the distance is approximately 1 cm rather than 1 m. You need a simple battery (2 Volts, 100 mA) and a copper coil with 100 windings on an iron core. This could be placed inside a wristwatch.”

The 270° car spin – The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974

The 270° car spin.

Chased by police in Thailand, Bond drives his vehicle — an AMC Hornet X, a model now out of production — onto a broken bridge, which he uses as a ramp for one of his most twisted stunts: a spin of 270 degrees (according to fans) before landing the right way up across the bridge. It can work — and did.

“In fact, it was really done by a stuntman!” Tolan says. “If the dimensions of the ramps are given… it depends only on the speed of the car whether the car lands on its tyres or not. This is achieved for the parameters of the ramps in the movie with a speed of 65 km/h plus or minus 3 km/h…. Everything else then happens automatically.”

The driver needs a specially prepared car, however; a normal car would become unstable while spinning. “The car was perfectly balanced i.e. the weight was distributed so that right and left from the driver there was approximately the same weight and the driver was sitting in the middle,” Tolan says. “Otherwise it won’t work!”

Car-turned-submarine – The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977

Car-turned-submarine.

It’s a Lotus Esprit coupe, which dives into the sea and turns into a submarine, the fenders having become fins. “Well, I have not investigated this further but,” Tolan asserts, “I think it is possible in principle.” It is one of the most discussed gadgets among Bond fans, especially online; a Google search leads to a blog post that has calculated a large drag force acting against the vehicle — 115,431 newtons.

The skydiving chase – Moonraker, 1979

The skydiving chase.

The enduring pre-titles sequence has Jaws pushing Bond off a plane without a parachute, and then jumping with one himself. Bond, however, propels himself towards Jaws and snatches his parachute.

It can work, according to physicist Rhett Allain, writing for Wired. His article explains that the two men are not accelerating but moving at a terminal velocity of 50-55 m/s, with gravitational force and air resistance having added up to zero. But when Bond moves his arms closer to the body, it decreases the air resistance and allows him to accelerate until he achieves a high enough terminal velocity to catch up with Jaws.

The Flying Autorickshaw – Octopussy, 1983

The flying autorickshaw.

Vijay the autorickshaw driver — Amritraj the tennis player outside of the movie — is driving Bond away from his pursuers. The chase culminates in autorickshaw acrobatics: Vijay drives over an inclined wooden ramp and across, the vehicle literally flying to safety. Tolan’s view: Not plausible.

“Well, if you follow the trajectory of the autorickshaw you can see that it reaches a height of approximately 5m with a bounce angle of 20 degrees. This is only possible if the autorickshaw has an initial speed of 100 km/h, which is not plausible in this context.”

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